With La Niña’s arrival, the forecast is for another winter colder and wetter than normal, something a Purdue Extension beef specialist said livestock producers need to prepare for.
Taking simple steps to prepare equipment, facilities and feed supplies can help reduce headaches for cattle producers, Ron Lemenager said.
“When the blizzard hits or the wind chills are below zero, tempers might flare, but that won’t thaw water or get the tractor started to feed cows,” he said. “A little planning when the weather is mild could make things go a lot easier for both producers and the livestock.”
Part of that means taking the time to do simple things, such as winterizing water sources by insulating them and making sure heating elements are in working order. Lemenager also recommended checking tractor batteries to make sure they can handle cold weather and making sure diesel tractors needed to move feed or snow are plugged in and ready to go. Sagging fences can be adjusted so they don’t freeze to the ground, hindering access to feed animals.
Producers also can fill in ruts with gravel so tractors don’t have a tough time getting snow plowed or hay bales moved to where animals can access them.
“It’s been my experience that when I’m not prepared, things go downhill in a hurry,” he said. “In the case of this winter, the forecast is for a colder, snowier winter than what we’re used to having.”
Aside from equipment implications, the colder weather could mean stress or health problems for exposed cattle. Producers need to be sure the animals have wind protection to reduce cold stress in housing and feeding areas.
Cattle experiencing cold stress will have increased energy requirements. Lemenager said that for every 10-degree drop in wind chill factor below 30 degrees, energy requirements increase by 13% for moderately conditioned cows with a dry winter hair coat and 30% for thin cows or cows with a wet or summer hair coat.
“When the temperatures drop, the wind chills increase and we’ve got snow, the first thing I think about is that the energy requirements of the cows increase,” he said. “That means we need to either feed higher quality feeds or supplemental feeds to offset that cold stress.”
Some of those supplements could be distiller’s grains, corn gluten feed, soybean hulls or corn.
Lemenager said it might also be helpful for producers to move some hay bales to more readily accessible locations for emergency use, as opposed to leaving them all out in the fields. This will prevent the need to plow a large amount of snow to feed cattle.
Providing proper bedding for cattle — both indoors and out — can also help reduce cold stress and maintain energy requirements. It also can help prevent ailments such as frostbite.
“For cows and bulls that are outside, it’s a good idea to provide some bedding for those cattle so the bulls don’t get frostbite on their scrotums and cows don’t get chapped teats,” Lemenager said. “If these cattle are lying on cold, frozen ground, they lose a lot of heat to that cold surface. Bedding might just mean unrolling a low-quality hay bale, corn stalks or wheat straw.”
Having warm, dry accommodations is especially important for the youngest of the herd.
“We’ve got a number of our producers in Indiana and across the Midwest that have spring calving herds,” Lemenager said. “If we’ve got cows calving in time frames where blizzards and wind chill factors can become a problem, that newborn calf is in an extremely vulnerable position to experience hypothermia. Making sure we’ve got an area prepared where the calf has some protection from the elements can save its life.”
Lemenager also recommended that farm managers develop a winter emergency plan that is posted in an obvious location and communicated to other farm personnel. It should include telephone numbers for those that may need to be called upon for help.
“When it comes to preparing for winter, keep in mind that we’re not worried about a cold, snowy day here and there,” Lemenager said. “What we’re concerned about is the longer-term events that last several days.”